The responses to #howwehatewomen were prolific. More than 50,000 people read that article in two-days’ time, making it Birth Anarchy’s most popular article, ever. As widely as it was shared, it clearly struck a chord with a lot people. And considering the volume of readership, the feedback was mostly a resounding, “YES! Thank you!” It’s clear that so many people are ready to move past the bland language that we case issues in – past the easy language that keeps everyone comfortable and complacent.
Of course, the responses weren’t all supportive. Many of the comments centered directly around the issues discussed in the piece – excusing the physician’s behavior, blaming the woman, blaming me for being vitriolic in my language and dramatic in my tone. If nothing else, it affirmed #howwehatewomen, and how desperate so many are to cling to a state of willful ignorance and denial when it comes to owning participation in oppression.
The most common themes in the retorts involved the following:
What about the MEN? They don’t have it so easy, either!
So, what about men? Why, when I call out oppression of of one people group, does it become necessary to deflect questions about all of the injustices in the world? Because men endure violence, too, does not cancel out the overwhelming subjugation that women experience in societies across the globe. Since when did calling out one form of oppression equate to valuing another injustice less? What is it with this need to quantify and calculate this position on the oppression hierarchy chain?
Audre Lorde, brilliant champion of womens rights, civil rights and LGBTQ rights aptly pointed out that, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.” Women’s issues are everyone’s issues because we have a healthier society when all people are treated humanely. Violence, abuse, and disrespect cripple societies.
Patriarchy has a special strangle-hold on women, but it holds all genders as its victims. Identifying hurdles that women face – specific to childbirth – is essential work in unearthing the reasons that we subjugate women, and it in no way undermines the intersection of other issues that we all face in our daily lives – from sexism to classism to racism to homophobia – they’re all important, they often overlap, and they each hold unique and legitimate challenges.
The women’s movement has been asked exponentially more than others to justify its position against other movements. The message is clear – women’s oppression is not “real” oppression. As a friend said the other day, “The height of privilege: try to make it look like the oppressed are asking for privilege.” Or, more plainly, ‘tell those spoiled brats to stop whining and focus on an issue that matters.’
This is an anti-men, extremist feminist viewpoint.
Calling out universal, ingrained hatred of women does not equate to men-hating, nor does it place a singular blame on men for pervasive, societal problems. Specific men do not own the cultivation of this systemic hatred, though some participate more than others, and certainly some fuel it aggressively. Naming hatred of women, while it may rightfully inflame you, is not needlessly inflammatory. Talking about a very real and documented disparity is not evidence of extremism.
We know that 1 in 3 women will experience violence in her lifetime, and will earn 77% of what men earn doing the same work, and will have their reproductive health choices regulated and controlled, and will experience myriad disparities in the world in big and trivial ways. These facts behoove us to examine how and why women are abused, disrespected, and controlled at alarming rates.
Naming and owning privilege is challenging; naming and owning oppression is astronomically harder. None of us wants to acknowledge our participation in perpetuating a perverse cultural system of oppression. But, like owning privilege, it’s pretty hard to move toward healing change if we can’t even get past the reality of its ugly name; if we can’t look inside ourselves and identify those places where we’ve consumed and digested messages that keep us oppressed and fuel others’ oppression.
How can we call for change in others and in systems when we can’t even allow ourselves to choke for a minute on our own uncomfortable part in the process?
Women practitioners do this, too, so clearly this isn’t about hatred of women.
Suggesting that female on female violence is evidence that this isn’t about hate reveals a deep lack of understanding of the magnitude of oppression. It looks at the micro-level problem and disregards the macro. It assumes that women can’t hold contempt for one another, or that oppressed groups can’t or won’t internalize and perpetuate their own oppression.
That women do this to one another demonstrates the complexity and perversion of the problem. Female abuse of other women affirms how deeply internal hatred can root. When a female judge hands down an order to compel a competent woman to undergo major surgery against her will, or a midwife cuts a woman’s vagina out of exasperation and anger, or a female OB performs a forceful vaginal exam amidst a woman’s protests, it is as much of an assault as when it is perpetuated by a man. In fact, it intensifies the assault by slathering on a coat of betrayal.
What kinds of stories must women be telling themselves to be complicit in systems that require them to participate in this kind of violence against their sisters? What kind of sick “equality” are we operating under whereby involvement and inclusion means mutual subjugation? What kind of survival mode do women exist in where we find our value in comparison against one another, or in exerting authority over one another?
This isn’t about men vs. women.
This is not an Us vs. Them conversation, as though focusing on women’s oppression somehow undermines another gender, or offering legitimacy to a gender-based issue compromises the integrity of all individuals who identify as another gender. Calling out systemic hatred does not mean one singular gender or singular human must own the weight of the entire problem. This problem – this hatred – is fed to all genders, and it knows no bounds. It can be malicious hatred and violent assaults, and it also includes shoulder shrugging and eye rolling and victim-blaming. It manifests as “Mommy Wars” and competition, eating disorders and self-hatred.
There’s nothing wrong with choking on something we’ve been compliantly swallowing since just about forever. I’m glad for my choking reflex; it’s caused me not to drown or suffocate a number of times. I don’t want to keep chewing, swallowing, and digesting these stale, rotting beliefs about women. When I stop and pay attention to what I’m putting in my face, I realize that it tastes awful, it hurts my throat, it makes stomach churn. I’m ready to cough it up and spit it in the compost. I’m ready for those scraps – those beliefs that are centered around hatred – around our less-than status – to decompose.
So, let’s be brave about it.
Let’s own it and choke on it for a minute so we can be real and work toward some meaningful solutions.